Two top officials with Harvey Volunteer Fire Company No. 2 are on trial in Jefferson Parish, charged with stealing about $350,000 in public money through their use of the fire company’s credit card and checking account.
Attorneys for the fire company’s chief and deputy chief contend that even though the roughly $2.8 million per year the company gets from Jefferson Parish’s Fire Protection District No. 6 comes from property taxes, it becomes private money once it is allocated to the volunteer department. They say the money was spent according to the fire company’s rules and the transactions were reported to and approved by its board.
Chief Scott Berthelot and Deputy Chief Michael Reason, both of Harvey, waived their right to a jury trial, and the case is being heard by 24th Judicial District Judge Glenn Ansardi.
Berthelot and Reason are charged with two counts each of theft and conspiracy to commit theft. Reason also is charged with three counts of filing false public records and one count of unauthorized use of a movable over $1,000.
Prosecutors have singled out banquets, hotel rooms, car rentals, a concert and even a genital enhancement device in alleging that hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent on goods and services unrelated to fire protection between 2007 and 2012.
Reason told investigators that he accidentally used the wrong credit card when he purchased the genital enhancement device, and the fire company’s secretary testified Tuesday that a class ring he purchased with company funds was approved by the board.
Under questioning by Assistant District Attorney Michael Morales, however, Paulette Mataya said she was not aware of any internal inquiry about why the fire company was billed for the enhancement device from Fast Size LLC.
Wiley Beevers, one of the attorneys representing Berthelot, and Chris Edwards, who is representing Reason, asked Mataya if she ever knew either man to steal from the department or try to conceal the nature of any of the purchases he made. She said she hadn’t.
She said it wasn’t uncommon for employees to use signed, blank checks to buy items at Wal-Mart and then turn in the receipts with the check, and that money was budgeted for holiday parties and other get-togethers because they are valuable tools to recruit the young men necessary to run a volunteer fire department.
Harvey Volunteer Fire Company No. 2 was recently reviewed by the Jefferson Parish Inspector General’s Office after that office received a complaint about a lack of controls over its expenditures.
A former member also has gotten in trouble with the Louisiana Board of Ethics for having a conflict of interest.
The trial is expected to continue through the week.
Follow Chad Calder on Twitter, @Chad_Calder.